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Your First Visit with The Oncologist - Questions to ask

Being diagnosed with cancer is a traumatic event, one than can leave you reeling and confused. To get the most out of your first Oncology Visit, you need to be prepare as much as possible. If possible, bring someone with you, to support and help you make sense of everything that will be discussed.

You may have to draw up a list of your questions, as you may forget them during the consultation. The Oncologist will usually reserve time towards the end of the consultation for questions. Here are some questions you need to ask.

What is the stage of the cancer?

The stage of the cancer is important to assess the best treatment for the breast cancer. Breast cancer is staged by assessing the tumour size, the status of the draining lymph glands, as well as whether the cancer has spread anywhere else in the body. It helps you and the Oncologist to define the aim of the treatment (cure or palliation), and to prognosticate.

What is the biology of the cancer?

This result is available from the pathology report. It tells us what type of breast cancer we are dealing with, and how best to treat it.It sheds light on the potential nature of the cancer, and patterns of behaviour in the future. This as well as the stage of the cancer will determine the best approach to your cancer. The management of your cancer is personalised to these and other patient factors. No approach is suitable for all patients.

What kind of surgery do I need?

Your Oncologist, together with other members of the multidisciplinary team, will discuss this with you after assessing your case and reviewing all your results. The breast surgeon will discuss this in more detail, taking into account the decision of the multi-disciplinary team. Depending on our individual case, and your preferences, you may need to undergo either lumpectomy (removal of the breast lump), or a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast).

The timing of reconstruction will also be discussed with the surgeon and the plastic surgeon.

Do I Need chemotherapy?

Depending on the stage and importantly, the biology of your breast cancer you may require chemotherapy before or after removal of the breast lump, in order to shrink the tumour before surgery, or to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence after surgery, respectively.

What are side effects of the treatment?

Considerable time will be spent discussing the side effects of your treatment, be it hormonal blockade if the cancer is hormone dependant, or chemotherapy if it is indicated.

Do I need radiotherapy?

You will be referred for radiotherapy if you have undergone a lumpectomy (removal of the breast lump), if the cancer has spread to the lymph glands in the armpit, or if the tumour was large at presentation (>5cm).